Dr. Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust
Fanned by the strong winds of distant Hurricane Dora, the several spontaneous wildfires of Mauri spread at a speed that trapped people, particularly those who were in its major west coast city Lahaina. Their only recourse … to jump in the ocean and await rescue. They were the lucky ones.
So far 93 deaths have been confirmed, but as can be expected, this figure is likely to rise as hundreds are still missing. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) evidence indicates over 2000 structures damaged or destroyed compared to earlier estimates of only 270. Maps and images reveal the devastation, and the projected cost to rebuild will run to $6 billion. Tourists caught in this mayhem continue to be evacuated after a vacation in paradise they are unlikely to forget.
The weather had been uncommonly dry and the National Weather Service had given the region a red flag. Almost anything then could have set a fire off, from lightning strikes to volcanic activity. Worse still, as climate scientists have notably observed, extremes of weather are more likely in the future given the impact of global warming.
Across the Pacific in China, Super Typhoon Doksuri churned slowly across its northwest, inundating Beijing and Hebei, the province that surrounds the capital city, which experienced the heaviest rain in 140 years. The mountain village of Tangzhuang consisted mostly of about 2000 elderly people as the young sought better opportunities in cities. Hit first by a landslide and then by rains of increasing intensity, it has simply disappeared in the sea of water. As reported by the BBC, 39 deaths in Beijing and 33 in Hebei province have been confirmed. The eventual toll will probably be much higher.
Meanwhile in Canada, there have been a spate of wildfires this year commencing in March but with increased intensity since June. Nearly a 52,000 square mile area lies scorched and 168,000 people have had to evacuate their homes at some point over this period. These record-setting fires have now engulfed to a varying extent all 13 of Canada’s provinces and territories. And four firefighters have lost their lives. The government is responding with federal aid, and voluntary international firefighting assistance has been welcomed. The seriousness and unpredictability of the fires marked by the spontaneous flaring up of blazes across the country is unprecedented and due to a drought that continues. It will therefore increase the hazard of fires through late summer.
Several thousand miles away on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Europe, the little country of Slovenia had 200mm (almost 8 inches) of rain in 12 hours during the night of August 3-4, an amount that in normal times would exceed the total for the whole month. Landslides, floods (when several rivers broke their banks), homes, businesses, roads and bridges damaged or completely destroyed, and hundreds of people have had to be evacuated.
About 1400 miles away lies Georgia on the other side of the Black Sea. Here the warm weather-caused intense melting of the Buba and Tbilisi glaciers coupled with heavy rainfall caused a massive mudflow in the mountain resort town of Shovi. Search and rescue teams have recovered 12 bodies and evacuated over 200 people. A further 25 remain missing, most probably still buried in the mud.
Numerous other countries have suffered floods, and others like Australia have become notorious for wildfires which have been worsening. But then there is tea, a drink savored by billions of people. A very special kind grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, the uniquely aromatic Darjeeling tea is synonymous with high quality. Sadly, global warming has had a decidedly adverse impact. Prices have quadrupled because the warmer and drier weather affects both quantity and quality — heat causes the tender leaf shoots to dry and less rain reduces the crop.
Thus, it goes on. Pick a country, there’s a disaster story — Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, countries in Africa, etc. Is it not up to us humans to act now individually and collectively before it’s too late?